Learn how historical little Londoners lived and played at Museum of London

What? A day at a museum with an under-five can be a joyful, life-affirming affair replete with learning and laughter. Then again it can be an absolute shit show filled with frustration and floor tantrums. The key to avoiding the latter? Touching. It all comes down to touching. Toddlers want to touch stuff. All the stuff. And that’s understandable. These people are brand new; of course they want to touch everything, and smell everything, and lick everything in sight. If I’d never seen a Neolithic axe head before I’d probably be licking it too. The problem with museums is they’re not generally known for their grope-happy policies. I mean when was the last time you went to a museum and saw a sign that said “please touch”? Well, actually, it’s funny you should ask, because the Museum of London is full of them – if you know where to look.

The first of the museum’s feel-up-friendly zones is the Playtime! gallery, a small interactive space designed to give little ones a taste of little Londoners’ play experiences in the 1950s as mass-produced toys began to become available and plastic and batteries came into use. The space consists of a play wall fitted with windows that either light up to reveal a hidden object or contain a toy that can be removed and played with. Annoyingly a few of the toys were either missing or broken and a couple of the bulbs had gone so you couldn’t actually see what was inside, plus the black-and-white TV wasn’t working. To the side of the space there was a little play table where you could turn a handle to play a tune, rotate some blocks to reveal an old-school children’s TV character, and guide a ballbearing around a maze – although that was broken too.

Undeterred by all the faulty crap we moved on to a brilliant London Underground cross-section model, which had plenty of buttons to jab at and trains to guide along a track, and followed that up with half an hour spent standing at an audio station listening to historical Londoners drivel on about their lives in six of the various languages spoken in the city in the Middle Ages. Bab’s favourite was Old Norse man.

After that we made our way to the Saxon house, a full-sized wattle-and-daub recreation fitted with sheepskin blankets, a hearth lit with reasonably realistic glowing embers, and wooden cookware. I could not get Bab out of here. We were literally stuck in there for about an hour, crawling around in the dark and feeding each other invisible soup from a massive spoon.

Other handsy highlights included the shoe-touching zone, which would have been absolute heaven for Bab had they not been glued to the floor, which really pissed her off, and a chill-out area with cushions to slob on and boxes for busy little hands to unpack.

Where?: The Museum is suspended above a roundabout at the junction with Aldersgate and London Wall – a busy main road named after the Roman city wall, of which a fragment still stands below the museum. The nearest stations are St. Paul’s (Central), Barbican (Metropolitan, Circle, Hammersmith & City) and Moorgate (Northern, Metropolitan, Circle, Hammersmith & City), which are all a 5-10 minute walk away. Bringing a buggy? There are lifts dotted around to transport you from the street to the Highwalks.

Best Bits: Bab could have stayed in the Saxon house burning her bum on the pretend hearth and spooning air into my mouth all day.

Worst Bits: The Playtime! gallery was a bit shit, though peering into the Bab-sized model terraces next door more than made up for it.

Facilities: Step-free access; two cafes offering kids’ lunchbox meals and high chairs; baby changing.

Would We Come Back?: This was the best day out we’ve had in a while and definitely one for the return-visit list.


Bab changes Andy Pandy’s outfit in the Playtime gallery at the Museum of London